Ah, E3. A wondrous time for gamers, and a precarious time for publishers and developers, as the latter titillate the former with scintillating details of what’s to come for the next year or so. As with last year, I put my hand up for Bethesda though it was for a much different reason. Regular readers might remember me saying the words, “Bethesda absolutely nailed it, launching the Hype Train from the station at terminal velocity while snapping off the brakes.” As it happens, that was quite an apt descriptor since my hype for Fallout 4 was misplaced and the resulting game could accurately be described as a train wreck. That’s just my opinion, however – take it as you will. Entering into the conference this year, I was at least expecting an apology for the removal of Role Playing from what has traditionally been an action RPG, but this was wishing for too much. Beyond that, I just wanted to see what they’d scrape together.
Turns out, a possible, split-second teaser for a Wolfenstein sequel was the second most interesting thing to happen.
The pacing of the conference was like an unbearable rollercoaster, taking forever to climb over some unfortunate hills and then quickly dropping through the fun bits far too fast. The tone was also overly self-congratulatory, to say the least. Things started out with one of the too-quick (and thrillingly stressful) moments. A cinematic trailer for the newly announced Quake Champions was shown off, heralding a return to the series that solidified Arena shooters as a thing and I’m cautiously optimistic. It was only a cinematic trailer, however, which is the kind of trailer I’ve become incredibly wary of because cinematic trailers almost invariably look awesome. Their accurate representation of the final product, however, is a tenuous one at best, and so I was hoping for a gameplay demo or video as a follow up to help assuage my concerns.
Tim Willits then took to the stage, “Thank Christ,” I recall thinking, “one of the original Quake devs had a hand in this, surely it will be great.” Some reminiscing of times past with the old Quake games ensued, coupled with some minor technical details about what Quake Champions will boast, but then the following words tumbled out of his mouth: “Quake Champions also taps into another hallmark of the franchise – unique and badass characters. The game features a diverse cast of warriors each with different attributes and abilities.” Well, f***, there goes that hope. There was no gameplay to be seen, but from the rest of what we heard from Tim, it sounds as though Bethesda looked at Battleborn and Overwatch before saying, “Say, we can do that! Let’s use Quake.”
God dammit, id, just… Do you even remember what an arena shooter is?
Pete Hines followed on and then took us through some highlights of the last year in Bethesda’s line-up, the first of which was releasing ESO on console as though porting a game is a huge accomplishment in itself. I’ll get to ESO and exactly what I think of it soon; however, several other titles were mentioned as part of Bethesda’s highlights along with the accolades they’d accrued. It’s one thing to be proud of a game you’ve made that’s been received well, but the way in which this was communicated – before anything of actual substance was shown – felt just a little off. It was as though Bethesda were desperate to remind their audience that they could do good things, that all their games were amazing and well loved, and they had the awards to prove it. Honestly, it just felt a little awkward.
If you’re keeping track of the metaphor, we’re still in the “taking forever to climb over unfortunate hills” part, as Hines would go on to detail the soon to be released Elder Scrolls Legends. For those not in the know, this is the strategy card game based on the Elder Scrolls series that will almost certainly be utterly crushed by the soon to be released Gwent from CDPR. Hines elaborated that Legends will have “a compelling story, and interesting characters,” which I’m sure is what everyone looks for in a Strategy card game. An uncomfortable amount of time was spent talking about what is ostensibly Bethesda’s way of cashing in on the Strategy Card Game craze while squeezing everything they can out of the Elder Scrolls franchise.
It gets worse, cos now I’m about to talk about Fallout…
Hey, guys! Guess what? We’re getting more non-story DLC for Fallout in the form of add-ons that could very well have been mistaken for mods found over at Nexus! Isn’t that– No, I can’t keep that joke up anymore, this is just depressing as hell now. There was a lot of talk about how critically acclaimed the game was, and how it was one of the biggest releases ever, but I personally feel such talk is unwarranted. Fallout 4 practically stripped from itself anything resembling decent role-playing to focus solely on action, and now its DLC is moving it further and further toward Fallout: The Sims. I don’t care if you can build vaults, I doubt whatever experiments it allows you to run would come close to living up to my messed up expectations, and it’s still something you could find on Nexus anyway. This is to say nothing of the ways in which this particular DLC f***s with the overall canon of Fallout, and the whole thing just makes me sad.
Fallout Shelter, on the other hand, is receiving what sound like some pretty decent updates, as well as a port to PC and that actually has me pretty excited. I’ll let it sink in for a moment that a port of a mobile game to PC has me more excited than its full-blown RPG equivalent’s updates because there is an aching pain in my chest over this shit. Following this was the announcement of “ESV: Skyrim – Special Edition,” complete with the addition of console mods and I’m sure that’s excellent for console players. Anyone else who has played Skyrim on PC will have already played this version, probably years ago, since modders have made that game way better than Bethesda could hope to ever do so themselves.
Ready for the next too-quick fun bit?
Take a look at this incredible trailer for a moment, then get back to me. That’s Prey, the successor to a game that I and many others have been waiting years for, and it was given but the brief spotlight of a cinematic trailer before being ushered away. God damn that game looks like it could be great and was hands down the best part of the entire conference but, alas, it was not yet time to talk about it in detail (apparently.) Next up was the announcement of some new content for the recently released DOOM, as well as the fact that you can play a demo of the game for the next week. (which I totally recommend, the single player is pretty sweet.) This is the end of the fun bit, as we plunge into the dingy end of the conference.
Following on from there was a look into ESO and it’s new expansion, of course with more boasting about its 7 million player base. However, let me tell you a little story about ESO. At PAXAus 2014, some Bethesda reps were handing out free stuff to a crowd of close to a hundred waiting fans for the Battlecry panel (yes, Bethesda, I remember Battlecry, even if you do not.) At one point, one of them shouted out “WHO HERE PLAYS ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE!?” It was a question that was met with an eerie silence, given we were in a busy exhibition centre, and characterises exactly what I think of ESO. The audience physically present for the conference were audibly excited to here about the upcoming content for the MMO, but I have a hunch that they were among the few to be at all.
Finally, Dishonored 2, the cherry on this cake of sadness.
I’m going to be straight with you here, I actually hated Dishonored. It looked pretty, but I wasn’t all that into the gameplay, and its story could easily be described as “ADHD The Game, Adventures of HEY LOOK, ANOTHER RANDOM PLOT POINT.” The announcement of its sequel didn’t inspire in me any excitement at all, and I’ll concede that Dishonored 2 does look visually fantastic. The way it was presented, however, felt really disjointed; a cinematic trailer, followed by a description of the world, back to some cinematics and more vague talk of the world itself. There was some gameplay to be seen, before some detail about the overall narrative and then that was it. And I don’t just mean for Dishonored 2, that’s also where the conference ended. Thanks for coming, go away now.
Honestly, after the way Fall– Bethesda raised my hopes last year and then dashed them quite expertly, I wasn’t expecting much and yet they still managed to tease at best and disappoint at worst. They couldn’t even get the hype levels up and ended on a rather banal note, with a game everyone already knew about, and in a fairly haphazard way. Aside from their success of DOOM, it feels more and more like they don’t even understand their own IP’s and it kind of showed in this conference. You get points for the demo of DOOM and the announcement of Prey, but otherwise, this was a C+ conference at best. Don’t see me after class, Bethesda – get your shit together first, then we’ll talk. On phones. Through 6-inch safety perspex. Grade: C+